All of us will face suffering. We are all only a phone call away from our life changing forever. We will get sick. We will lose loved ones. Trials will come.
And we don’t know when suffering will hit us.
For me, it was Thanksgiving morning 2009. I walked into our living room at home to give my youngest, Norah, her bottle. I burped her. I took her back to her Johnny Jump Up. I turned.
And then I woke up in hospital. I’d had a brain seizure, and I was diagnosed with a primary brain tumor, facing immediate surgery, chemo and radiation—and an estimate of a few years to live.
In that season, I found that my Christian friends tended to fall into one of two camps. The first camp was all about the will of God, and praying for the will of God. The second camp believed that If I had faith and believed that the Lord would heal me, then he would heal.
Those two camps tend not to play too well together. But here’s the thing: I actually believe they can help one another. One tells us how to pray for healing, and the other tells us how to respond when God doesn’t heal. We need both. We see that played out in the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, in Daniel 3.
The Real Story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
You may well remember the characters of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from felt-board stories in Sunday School, but this Bible story has direct implications for how we think about healing and how we pray for healing.
To recap Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden image and demanded that the people of God, who had been exiled to Babylon, worship it. Three of God’s servants who had been put in a place of authority in Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—refused. When the King threatened to throw them in a fiery furnace because of their disobedience, they responded by saying:
Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. (Daniel 3:17-18)
In other words; our God can save us, we believe that the Lord will save us, and even if He doesn’t, we will still praise the name of the Lord.
This should be our default position, regardless of what we’re walking through, and especially when we’re walking through the valley of suffering:
The Lord Can - God is sovereign. He is the Creator of all things, he is the Sustainer of all things, he has the power to do whatever he wills. Whatever suffering we are facing, we know that God has the power to intervene and to redeem and heal our pain and brokenness. Colossians 1:16-17 says, “For by him [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
The Lord Will - God is not only all-powerful, he is also personal. He loves us and cares about us. He bends his ear to the cries of his people. God invites us to pray to him and tells us that he will answer our prayers. Psalm 34:17 says, “When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.”
If He Doesn’t - God is good. We can see throughout the Scriptures, as he reveals who he is and what he is about, that God is a loving Father who knows best and wants what is best for his children. We can trust that if he chooses not to bring healing to us that he knows something we don’t know—and that one day he will end suffering and death once and for all. As Jesus pointed out, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).
How to Go About Praying
The Bible frees us up to pray boldly and courageously for healing—not to simply pray God’s will—because we know that he can heal, that he will heal, and that his will will be done regardless of the outcome. We’re not setting low bars. We have this crazy high bar. We come to him believing that he will heal, and believing that if he does not, it will be because he has a better plan and a higher aim in mind.
The Bible calls us to pray and plead with the Lord, asking Him to bring healing. I’m going to ask and believe with all my heart that Jesus Christ is going to heal me and heal the people I’m praying for, but then I’m going to open my hands, knowing that the will of God will take place. That’s the example Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego give to us. That’s how we pray in our trials—Lord, I know you can heal, Lord, I believe you will heal, and Lord, if you don’t, would you bring glory to your name and keep me worshiping you.
Joy in the Sorrow is the moving story of Matt Chandler’s battle with a potentially fatal brain tumor. But it's also the stories of members of The Village Church, whose lives were marked by suffering of various kinds. How they taught Matt, and continue to teach him, how to walk with joy in sorrow. Pre-order it here.